The Pirates' Offseason: What To Expect From The Bucs' Trades And Signings

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Ryan Doumit #41 of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Joel Hanrahan #52 celebrate a 6-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on September 15, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

For more on the Pirates, check out Bucs Dugout.

With the Bucs' season coming to an end, the Pirates will look to upgrade a roster that faded badly down the stretch. Even with ticket prices increasing a bit next year, though, don't expect the Bucs to go nuts - the free-agent market leaves a lot to be desired, and the Pirates aren't in any position to trade valuable prospects for big-league help. Here's the beginning of a look at what to expect from the Pirates this offseason. I've divided the players into a few categories to get a sense of the major problems the Bucs will face.

No Need To Think Too Much

2B Neil Walker
OF Andrew McCutchen
OF Jose Tabata
OF Alex Presley
SP James McDonald
RP Chris Leroux

McCutchen, Tabata and Presley are likely to be the outfield starters, although I think the Pirates should also have a good backup plan, since Tabata and Presley are unproven. There's no need to think too much about Walker or McDonald. Leroux may be a surprising choice for this list, but he's been excellent down the stretch, and there's no reason not to pencil him in for a spot next year.

Arbitration-Eligible

INF Brandon Wood
UT Steve Pearce
OF Garrett Jones
SP Charlie Morton
SP Jeff Karstens
SP Ross Ohlendorf
SP Brian Burres
RP Chris Resop
RP Jose Veras
RP Jason Grilli
RP Evan Meek
RP Joel Hanrahan

Morton, Karstens and Hanrahan are all locks to be offered arbitration, assuming they aren't traded. Meek will probably be tendered as well. Ohlendorf, Burres and Pearce almost certainly won't be, and Wood shouldn't be either, since there's no point in offering arbitration to a replacement-level player.

That leaves Jones, Resop, Veras and Grilli. David Todd and I recently discussed this on the Pirates' post-game show. It wouldn't surprise me if the Pirates non-tendered some of these guys, but I don't think they should. These four guys should cost around $6 million or less between them, and that's nothing to pay for four useful players.

Jones would ideally be a bench player, but as WTM at Bucs Dugout likes to say, there's no rule against having competent bench players. Resop, Veras and Grilli all have huge strikeout rates, and while there's no good reason to lock them up to long-term contracts, there's no good reason to give them up for free, either. The Pirates have been very stubborn in the past about paying more to players than they think they ought to, so it wouldn't be shocking if the Pirates dropped some of these relievers, the way they did with Matt Capps a couple years ago. But I hope they won't.

That leaves the Pirates with a bullpen very similar to this year's, which makes the "B ... b ... but you shouldn't get attached to relievers!" part of me a little bit squeamish. But these guys will all still be only a little more expensive than they were this year, and if that limits the chances of the Pirates trying and failing to cobble together a good, cheap bullpen from the likes of Denny Bautista and Tyler Yates, then I'm all for it.

That leaves the Pirates with the following (and I know we haven't talked about everyone yet, but this is a good place to stop and take stock):

C ???
1B Garrett Jones?
2B Neil Walker
SS ???
3B ???
OF Andrew McCutchen
OF Jose Tabata
OF Alex Presley

SP James McDonald
SP Charlie Morton
SP Jeff Karstens

RP Joel Hanrahan
RP Chris Leroux
RP Jose Veras
RP Chris Resop
RP Evan Meek
RP Jason Grilli

Before we consider more marginal players (like Kevin Correia on the pitching side, or Michael McKenry at catcher), let's look the Pirates' team options.

Team Options

C Ryan Doumit ($15.5 million for both 2012 and 2013, minus $500,000 buyout)
C Chris Snyder ($6.75 million, minus $750,000 buyout)
SS Ronny Cedeno ($3 million, minus $200,000 buyout)
SP Paul Maholm ($9.75 million, minus $750,000 buyout)

The Pirates still have needs at all the positions these guys play. My default plan would be to pick up the options on Cedeno and Maholm, and try to bring one of either Doumit or Snyder back at a lower price.

Cedeno is a controversial player, given his propensity for mental errors, but the Pirates don't have any viable alternatives at shortstop. Cedeno is a perfectly viable major-league starter, or at least he is right now, and he's cheap. Also, the free agent market isn't especially strong.

Health permitting, I think the Pirates should probably bring back Maholm as well. I could see the Pirates forgoing that and pursuing a starting pitcher like Edwin Jackson, much like they did with Jorge De La Rosa last year. But with free agents reluctant to come to Pittsburgh and with a one-year deal for a good pitcher on the table, I'd probably just take the bird in the hand. Also, picking up Maholm's option doesn't preclude the Pirates from pursuing other starting pitchers, particularly since their fifth-in-line starter, right now, is the replacement-level Kevin Correia.

The Pirates badly need a catcher next year. I'm fine with Michael McKenry, but he's an archetypal backup catcher. The Pirates have to have someone who can hit. My tentative solution would be to decline the options on both Doumit and Snyder but to offer Doumit arbitration. He would probably get around $7 million for one year if that were the case. If he declined, they'd get a compensation pick, and they'd be free to pursue Snyder or someone else in free agency, although the free agent options are pretty bad. (The reason not to pick up Doumit's option is that it covers two seasons, which isn't great for a catcher heading into his 30s.) So let's say, for now, that Doumit stays. I know the idea of paying Doumit $7 million for another year isn't something that a lot of fans will like, but he's a very good hitter for his position on a team that badly needs good hitters.

Now here's what we've got.

C Ryan Doumit
1B Garrett Jones?
2B Neil Walker
SS Ronny Cedeno
3B ???
OF Andrew McCutchen
OF Jose Tabata
OF Alex Presley

C Michael McKenry

SP James McDonald
SP Charlie Morton
SP Jeff Karstens
SP Paul Maholm

RP Joel Hanrahan
RP Chris Leroux
RP Jose Veras
RP Chris Resop
RP Evan Meek
RP Jason Grilli

That leaves the following spots open:

First base?
Third base
Bench
One starting pitcher
One reliever, probably a lefty (although the Pirates should bring in lots of credible relievers, since building a good bullpen is partially about quantity)

At first base, starting the year with Garrett Jones (and Matt Hague against lefties) wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, although again, it would be better to have him as a 400-PA corner utility guy. Everything I've read or heard about Derrek Lee's situation indicates he isn't coming back. I still like Carlos Pena as a potential option, although it's not clear to me what sort of salary he'll command - he made $10 million in 2011 after a down season in 2010, then hit much better this year. Given his age and his problems hitting for average, I certainly wouldn't go any higher than $10 million a year for him.

The Pirates should at least be willing to spend some money at first if the right opportunity presents itself. At third, it's not so clear. Pedro Alvarez is still a big part of the Pirates' long-term plans, and they won't want to sign someone they can't quickly move aside (or move elsewhere) if Alvarez starts hitting (unless they want to move Alvarez himself to first, which I don't think would be a bad idea). That rules out the possibility of making a big move for someone like Aramis Ramirez

At the same time, the Pirates can't have a season in which they get as little out of third as they did this year. It wouldn't surprise me to see them sign someone like Wilson Betemit, who can hit a little, and use him as a backup plan for Alvarez.

Filling the lefty relief spot shouldn't be hard (especially since Tony Watson isn't a bad option anyway), and the bench spots shouldn't be particularly problematic (bringing back Ryan Ludwick at a reduced price, or a similarly competent outfielder, would be nice). The problem will be figuring out what going on at catcher, first, third and perhaps in the rotation. One possibility would be for the Pirates to trade Hanrahan, who they need a whole lot less than they need offense, for a young infielder or for a young starter.

Otherwise, I would expect the Pirates to try to make at least one flashy move, probably for a pitcher like Jackson or a first baseman like Pena. They could also try to take on a contract in a trade where they don't have to give up much in the way of young talent.

For the most part, though, much of their capital could be spent trying to bring back players like Maholm and Doumit, and paying raises to arbitration-eligible players. Given the likelihood that sought-after free agents like Jackson and Pena (and Derrek Lee) won't want to come to Pittsburgh, the offseason could end up being a relatively quiet one.

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